Friday, December 19, 2014

A Lesson on Gossip from Mean Girls

In high school, most people experienced some level of drama. All those raging hormones especially among the girls are bound to flare up in endless cat fights. However, as the song "High School Never Ends" by Bowling for Soup points out, the drama does not end, it just opens up onto a wider scale and becomes more adult, so to speak. Because of this, the movie Mean Girls has a lesson for everyone, not just girls or women. Mean Girls is about gossip among girls in high school, but it causes you to think about the gossip in your life.
I first saw this film in theaters with my dad. I hadn't heard much about it but my dad wanted to take me because all the grad students my dad was working with at UC Berkeley had recommended it. This was before I knew anything about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. We both enjoyed it very much. Cady Heron played by Lindsay Lohan is transplanted from growing up in South Africa to a typical American high school in the Midwest. Being so pretty and exotic, she is instantly picked up by the Plastics whose queen bee is Regina George played by Rachel McAdams. What starts out as a mission to bring down the reigning group, Cady realizes how broken her new friends actually are.
The main issue Mean Girls deals with is gossip. You know the saying "Devil makes work for idle hands?" The same can be said for idle tongues too. Cady constantly feels uncomfortable around the plastics because of the awful things they constantly say about people. They even have a burn book with photos and insults about everyone in school. Even when Cady participates by saying nice things, Cady quickly learns that that too can become gossip.
At one point, I felt very sorry for Regina. Her mother, played by the brilliant Amy Poehler, cares very little what her daughters do. It seems as though the only way Regina knows how to deal with the hurt is to put others down to feel better about her own miserable life. When offered a chance for redemption, however, she blatantly refuses and clearly not out of ignorance, simply pride.
I had a horrible time in middle school because of gossip. No one wanted to be my friend because I would defend the targets of gossip rather than participate. I then was also the target of gossip even among the boys who I would often catch snickering at me. I was not so much hurt by the things people said, but I was hurt by the simple isolation of not being a part of the group and just being a target for no reason, really. In Mean Girls, everyone at Cady's high school feels that same rejection. The Plastics are the fuel, but everybody gossips. In Cady's attempt to infiltrate the Plastics, she finds herself turning into them. Despite her dislike of the burn book, in a very powerful scene she writes something about a teacher that is completely false and places the teacher under a police investigation. Left unchecked, gossip spreads like weeds and spirals out of control. When in a rage, it is easy to make targets out of innocent bystanders rather than take responsibility for our actions or foster a spirit of understanding.
I decided on this film and this topic because it's such a sneaky and seemingly innocent sin. It's a wolf disguised as all kinds of herbivore skins. This film was recently put on Netflix stream, so on a quiet evening to myself, I decided to watch it again. As entertaining a film it is to watch, I had a gut wrenching experience because I could see evil parts of myself in the actions of many of those teenagers. While I don't keep a burn book, it is so easy to complain about people we don't like, to say things about people who hurt us, and make comments about people who are a little odd. When we do those things, we strip away their God-given dignity. There was one scene in particular that really struck me and shows a brilliant feat of editing. Cady's math teacher, played by the hilarious Tina Fey, has a talk with her because she's not doing well even though she is brilliant at math. She expresses concern but Cady brushes her off. The next cut, Cady is in Regina's room complaining to the plastics not about the situation, but about Ms. Norbury. I froze in my seat. How many times have I done that? How many times have I complained about teachers because I didn't like the lesson or I didn't do well on an exam? How many Sunday's have I given myself the right to complain about a priest's homily or the way he said Mass? Everyone gossips to some degree. Even when we don't think the person hears us, they are still hurt by the invisible knives we throw at them. It also hurts us. Rather than speaking loving words, we foster evil in our heart. Each word of gossip fuels that evil.
If you want a lesson on gossip and the potential consequences, Mean Girls is the perfect movie. With social media making bullying even more rampant than when the film was first released, it's important for us to model how to talk to others IRL and online to our children. If they hear us gossiping about our neighbors, what are we to say to them when we find out they gossip about their classmates? The best way to fight any sin is prayer. Sometimes it may feel like the best thing to rant about someone on Facebook, even if you don't write their name. People who know the situation can see and the person you complain about may become hurt. The best way to combat the evil gossip in our heart is prayer. Start with praying for people you don't like and tend to gossip about. Pray for yourself so that you no  longer gossip. Most importantly, just don't talk unless you have something good to say. Next time you hear a good piece of gossip, pray for the person who told you and pray for the person who is being gossiped about. (They both probably need it!) Time with friends is better spent in joy rather than ugly chatter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

Humility is one of the seven virtues and may be the most important for it begins the journey to all other virtues. I am constantly learning humility, and I thought I was on the right track until last Monday and Tuesday a series of events brought me to great shame. Later that week I read the chapter on humility in Lisa Hendey's book The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living which also brought me full circle to realize where I need to grow in humility. During this blog, I shall recount all my experiences in the hopes that they will help you see where you can grow in humility.
Last Monday, I had an appointment with the priest before Divine Liturgy and was running late. I called him on my cell phone and placed it on the trunk of the car when  the call was terminated in order to put my toddler in the carseat. Well, in classic Violet fashion I completely forgot about it. About five minutes before Liturgy, I open my purse in order to put my phone on silent, and it is gone. I panic because I remember what happened to my phone, knowing it could potentially be anywhere. I check the car, it is gone. I check the whole area around my apartment complex where I drove, and it was nowhere to be found. If I had lost it on the street, I was sure I would never see it again. I mostly was upset because I have only had my phone for about six months, and I bought it to replace my previous phone which had also disappeared only to be found three months after I bought a new one. Instead of a contract, we agreed to pay for our phones over a period of two years. I hadn't even finished paying for it, and it was gone. My husband had emailed me saying he received a text message from a woman who had found it. When he returned home, I called her and arranged a meeting. What she had done for me was so amazing, there was no way I could rightfully repay her. In a meager attempt to do so, I brought her three of my favorite cookies. The ones I had made for St. Nicholas. When I arrived at our meeting location, I noticed that it was not in as nice an area as where I live. We met in a Starbucks parking lot, but across the street were apartment buildings that I saw her walk towards at the conclusion of our meeting. When I finally saw her, her clothes were not as nice as mine. I could tell that she was probably not as well off as I am, and I'm not doing so well. She was so joyful when she returned my phone. She explained that when she was at the corner waiting to cross the street, she saw something fly off my car. She was curious what it was. A young lady took a look at it and walked away. This woman took a look herself and saw that it was a cell phone. She risked injury to grab it when no cars were coming and promptly texted my mom, my best friend, and my husband with a number to reach her. I was so grateful, and I know that she could have just kept it for herself or sold it, but she didn't. She was worried that I would be frantic wondering where it was. She also was grateful for the cookies.
I was so humbled. In her story, I know which person I probably would be. I probably would have been the young lady who saw the phone and kept walking. Let me tell you, I will never be that person again. I was also humbled by a poor woman servicing me. Growing up and still today, I am taught that it is important to be generous with the poor. I'm not great at this, but I do what I can. Rarely have I ever heard about someone poor doing something for someone of wealth. Christ says. . ."Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Mark 12:31) Your neighbor is all of God's children, so the implication is that if there is a need, the poor can serve the wealthy. True generosity and love is unconditional. If a woman with little is willing to do an act of love for me, how much more should I be willing to go out of my way to commit acts of love for those around me?
On Tuesday, I was once again shamed. I had a game on my cell phone that I would let my toddler play. I gave it to him as a distraction while I was in the bathroom brushing my hair. I'm brushing my hair, and I hear the game playing. Suddenly, I hear splashing next to me. My son had opened the toilet seat and was splashing in the toilet. (Don't worry, it was clean.) At the bottom of the toilet, however, was my cell phone. I was in utter horror. I took it out in an attempt to save it, but it was too late. It has since stopped working. This is not the first item my son has broken. He has broken three picture frames, spilled beans all over the floor, broke the food processor, and countless other acts of horror.  He has officially cost our family about $500 in damage including my cell phone. Sure, some parents may blame me for giving my kid my phone to play with. You know what though, he really liked that game. It was one of his favorite things to play with. It would often keep him quiet for a few minutes while I brushed my hair. How is this humbling? I shouldn't put too much value on something that met its end by the hands of my toddler in the bottom of the toilet. I also shouldn't put too much value on something that I often times put before my son.
I spent the week reflecting on these two events with an emphasis on Monday's events. Those two events began what I would consider the worst week of my life. And guess what, it's turning into the worst TWO weeks of my life. Hooray. I had been reading Lisa's book as part of a book club on just to make sure I read it a prayerful manner, and to read what other people think of the chapter. Last week, the chapter happened to be about humility, the very virtue I was praying about that week. With the help of the book, I realized where I was lacking in humility that is the root of both the events of last week.
Lisa spends much of the chapter talking about forgiving others and ourselves. God taught me that a few years ago, so I have no trouble forgiving others. (Especially since that is how I will be judged by God.) She began the chapter, though, talking about every professional's constant struggle between pride and humility. I could relate to that. As long as God is the root of our professional work, everything is fine. Alright, makes sense. She later quotes C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity to define humility as follows: "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." Wow, I felt like God whacked me over the head with that one. I had been focusing most of my "humility" on the first part, thinking less of myself. When it came to thinking of others though, I often times would even put myself even before my family. I realized how selfish I had been. Since I read this, I fortunately have been making an active effort to put others before myself. If I had found someone's cell phone, would I have done the same thing the woman did for me? Probably not. Hopefully with prayer and active selflessness, the answer will one day be "yes."
Everyone is called to humility because Christ was humble. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) If God is not exempt from serving others and placing others before himself, neither are we. All the great saints had emphasized the importance of humility, and all searched for it. If we are to join Christ in the beatific vision, we too need to wear the robe of humility.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Movie Roundup

I am a huge fan of Christmas movies, and the sappier the better. I have about 20 years of experience watching Christmas movies, so if you're looking for something to put you in the mood for Christmas, here at my top favorites.

1. The best Christmas movie out there is It's a Wonderful Life. My husband would argue it's not a Christmas movie, but it totally is. In fact, it was a box office flop but became a hit when aired the entire month of December during the late 1980's when the world realized what a brilliant film it is. Nothing more sappy or well written. George Bailey, the main character played by James Stewart, is the prime example of how God asks us to live our lives. Nothing but the best from Frank Capra.

2. A Christmas Story is a film every demographic will enjoy year after year full of memorable moments. It almost feels like it was one of your past Christmases. This is also the film which started the tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas Day. 

3. A Muppet Christmas Carol is by far my favorite version of this Charles Dickens classic. This film maintains the spirit of the original story with all your favorite Muppet characters and such great music. One of the best Muppet movies for sure. 

4. This is where the list gets a little wonky because all the following movies don't really have as clear an order. It may even change day to day. I recently re-watched Love, Actually, so I'm going to put it here. It's such a fun romantic comedy with different stories with different outcomes all coming together at a school Christmas pageant somehow involving a lobster. 

5. The 1947 original version of Miracle on 34th St. is a classic. Brilliant story, acting, everything. Edmun Gwenn as Kris Kringle is just such a beautiful portrayal of a humble, noble Santa Claus.

6. Nothing Like the Holidays is a Hispanic Christmas movie about a typical Mexican-American family coming together to celebrate Christmas. I used to work in a movie theater and every week I was allowed to see a movie for free. One week, my mom and I saw this movie and were both quite pleased. It is such a rich story with the drama you find in a typical large family, not just a Hispanic family.
7. Santa Clause 1 & 2 are two films about the origin of Santa Clause. The first one is about Scott Calvin, played by Tim Allen, a divorced father who works for a toy company. He learns the true spirit of generosity and the magic of Christmas. The second one is about Santa finding Mrs. Claus. A romance about Santa Claus? How much better can it get?

8. Polar Express seems to be the only animated film on my list. I saw this in 3D when it was in theaters and the animation blew me away. By today's standards, it's a bit crude, but still quite magical. Tom Hanks plays about every character but the little boy. This is a great adaptation of a children's book with beautiful music to match.

9. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Santa Claus & Santa Claus Conquers the Martians are two of the funniest Christmas classics in the context of commentating robots, of course. Santa Claus is a Mexican film about the myth of Santa Claus. Just, wow. But with the talking robots, rather than being a cringe-worthy film is a laugh fest for the whole family. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is about Santa Claus keeping Martians from invading Earth. With Mike Nelson, Tom Servo, and Crow, it is another fun film that will keep you laughing until Christmas morning.

10. I mostly put Elf on the list because of its popularity. It's a good film, and when it came out it exploded with fame. I think what makes this movie unique is that Will Ferrell's character Buddy has innocence and though he's a bit naive, he quickly grows up without losing the Christmas spirit.

11. Dear Santa is a surprising film. There are so many other Christmas movies I could have put on the list, but I put this movie on for a number of reasons. Dear Santa is really indi and low-budget. The acting is mediocre along with the rest of the elements of the film. The characters and story, however, are so captivating. It's a pretty generic story of spoiled rich girl turned nice girl by handsome, perfect man. He clearly wasn't perfect though because the woman he was dating was not a good fit for him. The main character Crystal, played by Amy Acker, works hard to make herself worthy of such a good man and her heart genuinely changes throughout the movie. Of all the movies I could have put on the list, I added this one because it is such a pleasant surprise, you won't be disappointed.

Right now Netflix instant view is airing Muppet Christmas Carol, Love, Actually, and Dear Santa. You can rent the rest on this list from Amazon or Netflix.

Special mention of Charlie Brown Christmas special. Classic and so good. Watch it!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vegan for the Holidays

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip cookies for St. Nicholas
My husband's students are worried that because I'm vegan my son will not have warm Christmas memories of cookies and treats. Well, this year no because we don't give him sugar, but for the last three years, Santa has enjoyed the vegan cookies we leave for him. Nicky has many years of delicious Christmas cookies to look forward to. It is different having a vegan holiday, especially for Thanksgiving. These are the times I am most tempted to throw aside the Tofurkey and enjoy an animal-based dinner. I have my little mantra I say to myself that keeps me in check, and I smile as I enjoy a delicious vegan food.
This year for Christmas Eve dinner, I decided to make for myself vegan Polish sausage and pirogi. At first I was very excited until I realized I would be the only one enjoying them. My husband claims he wants some, but we'll see how well the crab distracts him. Even my son will be having crab with the rest of the family. The holidays are supposed to be about bringing people together. This has been achieved throughout history with food. Each country that celebrates Christmas has their own traditional Christmas foods. Being from San Francisco, it was Dungeness Crab for our family. By intentionally refusing to participate in the foods of Christmas, I am choosing to separate myself from everyone else during a celebration. Desserts are usually vegan at the holidays because that's easy to accomplish and no one notices, so I can fully participate in dessert. For dinner, however, I end up feeling alone even though I'm surrounded by people who love me. At Thanksgiving this year, I was severely let down by my Tofurkey. In retrospect, I should have just made it myself instead of buying it frozen. Never doing that again. I also was too busy and forgot to put it in the oven on time. I ate my mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans but had to have the "main course" after everyone had finished and was cleaning up. My son was even too full from potatoes, bread, and green beans to have any. When I did eat it, it tasted pretty bad. On the flipside, I didn't want turkey. I never really liked it anyways. I always found it dry and tasteless. What was I to do? I guess nothing really. Omit the "main dish" all together? What kind of celebration would that have been?
I really enjoy baking. This weekend, I made chocolate mint chocolate chip cookies for St. Nicholas. I normally bake desserts that are healthful so my husband can enjoy them without guilt, but these were for St. Nicholas. I couldn't not put sugar and butter in them. For our Christmas party every year, I bake three batches of cookies which last for days even after my friends devour half of them. Around here, I am the queen of desserts. No one ever complains about my desserts, even when full of healthful substitutions. That's probably why I enjoy baking so much. As I say, you put enough sugar in something and no one can tell it's vegan. I have plenty of friends who can attest to this. 
I guess once we move away, I won't have to worry about this anymore because we will be on our own for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We'll have vegan Polish sausage and pirogi for Christmas and homemade turkey roast for Thanksgiving. When my family and I are in our own home eating our own food, eating vegan feels normal, and I have no doubts. Things do become a bit sticky when at other people's homes or out to eat. Eating vegan can feel like a celebration because it is a lot of work when making things from scratch as I do. Even as a vegan, how can my seitan roast compete with a turkey, or my bean sausage with fresh crab? Even when surrounded by temptation, I know abandoning my vegan ways will not make me any happier, even if I would fit in better. I guess I just would like to meet one other person who is like me: Catholic and vegan.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Commentary on Killing Animals

A goat at the Santa Ana Zoo investigating us
I read a very touching article today on Huffington Post about a farmer who grows plants, raises animals, and enjoys hunting. The post is titled "Do I Enjoy Killing?" by Jenna Woginrich, a small farmer who was once a vegetarian herself. Even though I'm a vegan, I can appreciate what she has to say. In fact, it may have swayed me to allow my toddler to have some crab at Grandma and Grandpa's on Christmas Eve.
The title of the article comes from criticism she has faced by animal rights activists which is an over simplistic criticism. The statement reminds her of a school trip to a river. A fish was injured and beached, dying when a school boy dropped a rock on its head to "see what would happen." This infuriated Jenna. So when being accused of enjoying killing, in the end she concludes that she is not like the boy and she does not enjoy killing. She kills because it is necessary, she loves the animals, and loves her family. I really respect that. She even mentions how when roasting a lamb, she fasts all day so she can enjoy the lamb in the evening. As Byzantine Catholic, I really appreciate that attitude.
In the article, Jenna talks about what green eating really means. She knows all about factory farms, but one thing that I even struggle with that she mentions in the article is tofu. Soy beans are grown on a farm, shipped to a facility where they are processed, packaged, and shipped to the big city where I can buy it. When she goes hunting, she captures an animal that has been living in the environment around her. Which one sounds more environmentally sound? I do not have personal experience with farming as Jenna does, but the type of farming I have heard about that seems the most green is one that raises all the animals, allows them to do their unique chicken, cow, pig, etc. behavior, and grow crops on the same land. This is the type of farming children are taught about, but sadly is not what most farms look like. It is, however, what Jenna's farm sounds like.
Jenna loves sharing her animals with her friends and family. On their plates of course. In the article, she takes possession of her flock of sheep. She makes sacrifices to keep them comfortable, she knows what they give her, and she cares deeply for them as any good shepherd would. This is the Catholic attitude of animals. They are not to be placed above humans or even equated with humans. They are to be cherished and used as deemed necessary. When used properly, animal meat can be used to bring families together as a celebration like Turkey on Thanksgiving or Dungeness crab on Christmas Eve.
My blog post in response to Ms. Jenna's article may seem confusing considering I'm vegan. In my blog post "Debunking the Catholic Vegan Myth", I talk about how theologically sound it is to be either vegan or non-vegan, but factory farming is not the way to be non-vegan. Jenna's farm clearly embodies Catholic teaching on the treatment of animals and her attitude towards her animals is quite touching. In fact, her article is more loving towards animals than any other piece of writing I've read about being vegan.
If I appreciate Jenna's point of view, why do I continue to be vegan? As I explained in my blog post, I like it. I just do. No, I won't be eating crab on Christmas Eve with my family, but I don't really want to. Just before college, I knew my vegetarian options would be slim in the dining hall, and with the stress of starting a new life, I did not want to put in the effort to be vegetarian. The first non-veg meal I had was a Burger King Wopper. I was overwhelmingly unimpressed. As I ate my burger, I thought to myself, "I wish I had ordered the veggie burger." Since then, I have had In-N-Out and found a burger made of meat that I actually like. That has been the only real hamburger I have eaten that I've enjoyed and probably the only one I ever will eat if I ever eat meat again which is quite unlikely. However, if the need to buy meat should ever arise for family or any other reason, I will only buy ethically raised meat products from farms like Jenna's.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

December Photo a Day

You can find lists all over the internet with tips on capturing those Christmas memories. This year, in an attempt to expand my photography and really capture our traditions, I decided to do a photo-a-day challenge. I found one I liked among this two year old list here. I'm following the Lily Pad prompt. Even though it's the fourth of December already, I encourage you to use the lists at least for inspiration for capturing your own family traditions. Feel free to look around the internet for a list you would enjoy. I'll be posting daily throughout the month of my December on my Tumblr here. For now, below are my first four photos.

Day 1:  Twinkle 

Day 2: Green 

Day 3: List

Day 4: Box

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude

"In  all created things, discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks." (St. Teresa of Avila) Though Thanksgiving has passed, in the busyness of preperations, we often forget the reason for this holiday. Even though it is a secular holiday, we can turn to our Creator and be thankful to He who created us out of pure love. How do we remain in gratitude when it seems we have nothing to be thankful for? How do we remain thankful during a time when consumerism attempts to place itself above all things including God and family? Let us take a closer look at the virtue of gratitude.
Gratitude is expressing appreciation to someone for words and actions and stems from true humility. The very sacrament of Eucharist means "giving thanks." We can be grateful to our parents for raising and caring for us. We can be grateful to our children for making us grow in selflessness and all the gifts of joy they have brought us. Most importantly, we must be grateful to God from whom all good things come. God has given us everything and everything good we have comes from God. How important, then, is it to give Him thanks?
Personally, I have much to be thankful for. I encourage you to make a list of your own things in life that you're grateful for. I'm grateful for my faith and the Sacraments, family, health, life, home, education, hobbies and talents. I could go on! I have so much to be thankful for. For me it is especially important to give God thanks constantly because I can easily point out what I do not have that I wish I did. For example, I would love to have a house like my parents have for my son to live in and run around instead of a one bedroom apartment. Aready God is showing me His love and providence. I was not going to buy any presents for my son this year for Christmas. Make him a couple things, and I had one leftover from last year. Last week, though, my husband received a Babies R Us gift card which will now be used to buy at least one nice gift for my son. That one small act has given me such joy that my son I'm sure will not even understand. I am grateful to the person who gave my husband the giftcard and to God for constantly shaming me in my despair.
With Black Friday ever encroaching on Thanksgiving, it can be hard to remember that the importance of gratitude is not in wishing for more but rather being content where we are. Even though I would like a house, I am very happy with our sizable apartment. I really am. So as the shopping season comes into full swing, you can maintain humility in a number of ways. Do not be attached to certain gifts. If you can only afford a certain amount, do not spend more than that. Your children will have a great Christmas as long as the gifts are thoughtful whether or not the number beneath the tree are large or small. A great way to show gratitude at Christmastime to those you love is handmade gifts. Those are certainly going to dominate my gift giving this year. Handmade gifts are growing in popularity. As popular as they are, they still feel countercultural. With enough thought and effort, handmade gifts can express great love to the important people in your life for less money than anything bought could have. Another way is prayer. Advent is a time of prayerful preperation and anticipation of the coming of Christ. As long as we pray every day and attend mass on Sundays, ingratitude will hopefully be far from our hearts. 
There are times when it seems we have nothing to be thankful for, even this time of year. Maybe you're out of a job, you've lost a close family member, or anything else that makes this time of year especially difficult. It is important to feel sorrow if there is a reason to. In those times of sorrow, however, we must not dwell in despair but rather turn to God and Our Lady for comfort. We must offer up to Christ on the cross our own crosses and pains. We can pray to receive what we need. Even in times of sorrow, though, we still have things we can thank God for. Each day, whether easy or challenging, is a day to be thankful for. We can even be thankful for the sorrowful times because they give us an opportunity to grow closer to God. Whatever is going on in your life, it is imporant to take a step back to see what you can be grateful for. 
Gratitude is a virtue. Like all virtues, it must be consciously cultivated and prayed about. Through humility and love we can give God thanksgiving all days of our life most especially on Thanksgiving and during Advent. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Debunking the Catholic Vegan Myth

When I first told my husband, then fiance, that I wanted to be vegan, he freaked out on me. He criticized me and became very hostile. I explained to him that I was a vegetarian for a long time before I stopped and after doing some more research, I just couldn't in good conscience continue eating meat. My husband later admitted that one reason he freaked out is because the only vegans he had ever met were mean and judgmental. I asked him if I was mean and judgmental, he said, "No," so I asked why changing my diet would change that about me, and he had no response. This is not a commentary on my husband, but he represents a group of Catholics out there who may oppose being vegan or vegetarian because of all the negative ideas the vegan community represents. It seems to me that the idea of veganism is tied very closely to New Age philosophy which I do not support. I try not to associate myself with anything religiously or philosophically questionable, so I would like to explain how a person can be Catholic and can be vegan.
Yes, yes, I know we are designed to eat meat. Yes, yes, I know God gave Moses the animals and Peter was told that all animals are clean. (My Ignatian Catholic Study Bible, by the way, says that it was an allegory of the Old Law being abolished in Christ and that Gentiles were welcome into Christianity.) So how can I justify not eating meat? Well, also in Genesis, man was given dominion over animals. Unlike most vegans, the actual eating of meat does not offend me. It does gross me out a little, though, you can ask my husband. The actual idea of it though, I find acceptable. What dominion means is caring for the earth and using (not abusing) her resources. You cannot find a faithful Catholic that would say animal abuse is holy. In fact, grave animal abuse is considered a grave sin. See CCC 2457. The main reason I decided to become vegan was to relieve the suffering of the animals. Yes, the cows and pigs on your plate most likely suffered in some way before they were killed. I will not go into details, I encourage you to do your own research. For this reason, I support grass fed beef and local farms ethically raise their pigs and chickens. Meat that comes from well treated animals is more expensive and more delicious, but that's why I encourage people to spend their money on good meat and then eat less of it. A mostly vegetarian diet.
If the animals don't die to make milk or eggs, why not eat those? Again, it's the suffering. Mother cow and calf are constantly separated and calves often sent to be made into veal. With egg-laying chickens, well, again without details they suffer pretty horrifically, and to be honest, neither are really necessary. We find a woman's milk grotesque to drink, but we have no problem taking it out of a cow? Where's the logic in that? Cow's milk is for baby cows and Mom's milk is for baby humans. My friends ask me that if I owned a chicken, would I eat her eggs? My response is if I liked eggs, then yes, I would. But I hate eggs anyways and can bake just as well without them, so I have zero desire to ever consume an egg again. As far as ethical substitutes, I there is grass fed cow milk on the market, and I read that because of the cow's larger variety in diet, the milk's taste changes. For eggs, I have found the best option that my husband buys is American Humane Certified. We buy them at Target, but I have seen them at Safeway. They are more expensive, but my response is to just eat fewer eggs.
Aren't people more important than animals? ABSOLUTELY. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states that even though it is important to be respectful of animals, it is a mistake to treat them more importantly than we treat people. (2418) This is why I spend more time protesting abortion than protesting CAFOs. The advantage to being vegan or to being mostly vegan, is that we can still serve humans while maintaining the dignity of animals. This is why I truly consider myself pro-life because I place human life first but I also remember our animal companions.
My son and a vegan raspberry sorbet we shared at a very expensive restaurant in Disneyland celebrating his 1st birthday. The chef came out and had a satisfying vegan meal on hand for us.
What about fasting? Yes, well, this does bring about a dilemma every year around Lent and St. Phillip's fast. The way I observe fasting for now is that I abstain from caffeine on days when everyone else is abstaining from meat. What I will most likely do with my kids is on days meant to fast, we will abstain from anything with added sugar such as desserts and soda. (Although hopefully the soda thing won't really be an issue) As a Catholic, I know we have seasons of the year, and it is important to observe those seasons, so I just find my own way to do extra penance. (Because believe me, being vegan is penance.)
Another piece of resistance I have met that surprised me the most is turning food into a "god." That by having a particular diet, I obsess with food. I admit, at first, I read a lot of labels. I encourage you to do that whether or not you have a particular diet. But someone who has a lactose, nut, or gluten allergy has to read labels too, right? Does that mean they're turning food into a god? No, it means they're trying not to get sick or die. How do you balance maintaining a diet and not turning your diet into a god? Pray about it, for one thing. I still pray about being vegan. About whether or not it is the right choice for me. My spiritual adviser encourages it, so I'm not going to question him. Now that I know what's vegan and what's not, I'm not so scrupulous about labels anymore. As far as attending parties and such, I let the host know I'm vegan, and if I can't be accommodated I eat beforehand or bring something for myself. When I host a party, I like to accommodate special diets too, so I don't feel bad just letting the host know. I got into a huge fight with my husband and my dad about whether or not our wedding cake should be vegan. It did end up being vegan and nobody noticed. Now, if you practice a mostly vegan diet, and you're going over to someone's house for a meal, you can plan that as one of your few meat meals for the week. The Catechism also talks about maintaining physical health as a good as long as it does not interfere with the common good. (CCC 2288) If your diet turns you into a mean person or endangers you for whatever reason,  probably should rethink that. It is important, however, to maintain a healthy diet out of respect for yourself, your loved ones, and most importantly the Creator. What may seem like to some scrupulosity, to me is just life. I don't feel like I obsess. I have my vegan cookbooks, food blogs, etc, and I work from there like any other family would.
Sweetpea bakery in Portland, OR (vegan)
So, I have presented appropriate substitutions for eating meat. Why do I not then adopt those? Mostly personal reasons. I really don't like killing animals even though I see how acceptable it is. I like being vegan. I really do. I love trying new vegan recipes and restaurants. I'm a vegan food blog junkie. I think my largest Pinterest board is my Vegan Food board. I do encourage my husband to eat appropriate substitutes, and my parents buy grass fed beef. And even though I have presented ideas on how to eat more expensive meat, it plain tastes better. During my brief non-vegetarian period in college, I ate some of my parents' grass fed beef, and it was way better than the regular stuff. Made me not dislike hamburgers so much. In California, we have In-n-Out which serves grass fed beef. Even during my non-vegetarian phase, I would eat veggie burgers except at In-n-Out. They are so delish! So why not eat them? Of the very few meat foods that do tempt me, In-n-Out is one of them. Even though I know it's ok, I just don't really want to. I'm perfectly happy eating my veggie burger. Plus, the idea of eating a dead cows is a little gross to me. I know many of you are unwilling to surrender your meat, but maybe consider where you can cut back on meat. Have beans for breakfast instead of beacon. (Don't worry, you can put your beacon on your salad with dinner.) Have a hummus wrap instead of a turkey sandwich for lunch. Your health will be better off too!
For further research I encourage you to see the movie Food, Inc. and read Dominion by Matthew Scully and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Prayer in the Quiet and in the Noise

Teresa of Ávila by Francois Gerard (1770−1837)
My junior year of high school, for my Spanish class, we had to do a biographical puppet show in Spanish on a famous Spanish-speaker. Having hosted a Spanish exchange student, that summer, I looked into female Spanish saints I could do. I ended up doing St. Teresa of Avila. Yes, I made a puppet of St. Teresa of Avila and wrote a speech for her to give on her life in Spanish. It wasn't bad. Later in my junior year of college, I attempted to read her book Interior Castle. Yeah, that pretty much went over my head. I'm going to try reading a commentary on it before I attempt it again.
During my engagement, I explored more deeply different spiritualities among the Catholic faith, and I found refuge among St. Teresa, St. Therese, and the Carmelites. Their quiet spirituality inspired me to become a Stay-at-Home-Mom. I grew a deep friendship with St. Terese through her book Story of a Soul which I will discuss at a later time. For now, I would like to discuss the first Carmelite I met.
My favorite story of St. Teresa was when she was five, she convinced her brother to accompany her to be martyred at the hands of Moors. Fortunately, her uncle found them outside the town walls and escorted them home. She reminds me of my grandma who, not so piously, during the Great Depression tried to convince her brother to shout "Boo Hoover" while they were out on the town as children. That spirit of mischief my grandmother and St. Teresa de Avila had in common. Though I myself would hope my children would not run off to be martyrs, I do hope my children live lives of piety with joyful spirits. And maybe a little mischief.
Another of my favorite stories of hers is when she had her visions, many of her friends ridiculed her and gossiped about her, thinking she was mentally ill or possessed by the Devil. Jesus' response to her complaints was "Teresa, that's how I treat my friends." She responded, "No wonder you have so few." This is a great reminder that the road with Christ is not an easy one, but we know it's the right one.
What are lessons that we moms can learn from Teresa? Well, Teresa spent most of her life struggling with illness, spending time in meditation and prayer, and reforming the Carmelite order. Let's focus on each of these individually in the context of motherhood.
Any one of us could be struck by illness or any other hardship. Teresa de Avila's illness was so severe, she was paralyzed for years. What if that were to happen to us? With all that is involved in running a household, I cannot imagine being bed-ridden. I would be so sad not to be able to play with my little boy like I can now. When we face a severe illness that may even take our life, we must place all our trust in God and be thankful for all that we have. We must not lose hope. All that we have belongs to God, and He can take it back when He so desires. As mothers, healthy or not, we must remember to appreciate every moment and trust in God no matter the struggles we may face.
I know for me, spending time meditating and praying is a necessity I wish I could afford more of. The semester before I became pregnant with my son, my husband and I took a weekly workshop at a local parish on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises which required an hour of daily meditation. I spent an hour every morning meditating before going to daily rosary and mass. I gained many fruits by doing this and was so sad to stop because being pregnant, I needed that extra hour of sleep. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2705 describes meditation as ". . . [seeking] to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking." Teresa describes mental prayer as ". . . nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us." In order to understand the needs and desires of our spouse and children, we must spend time with them to listen. When we are so busy that our prayer mostly involves daily speaking rather than listening, our purpose can become lost. It is even more important to spend a few minutes of quiet with the Lord whether we are in the shower, grocery shopping, or cooking dinner. If you can find time to pray quietly before an icon or the Eucharist, all the better. Even us busy moms can pray without ceasing if only we turn to the Lord in those quiet moments.
Now, we most likely will not need to reform an order of nuns. We do, however, need to make sure our domestic church has her priorities straight. Teresa noticed the vanity of her fellow nuns. After her years of prayer and visions, she knew the Carmelites needed to be more Christ-centered in their spirituality. Where does Christ live in your family's prayer life? Is He in the center or more off to the side? I know I struggle to keep Christ in the center of my family's prayer life. With St. Phillip's fast under way, it is the perfect time to put Christ at the center once more. Does your family observe the Liturgical Calendar? We make an effort to go to Divine Liturgy on special feast days even if they are not Holy Days of Obligation. In fact, we're going tonight to celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos, or the presentation of Mary for you Romans. Like Teresa de Avila, we can prioritize Christ no matter what stage of life we are in.
As a busy, stay-at-home-mom, I know how tough it can be to even remember to pray. This is something I struggle with every day. Though we ourselves are not cloistered nuns like Teresa, out in the world she has a lesson for us. Teresa believed that prayer should lead to action, which we moms are very good at. As long as we make time with Christ a priority and all things are done in His name, just like Teresa, God will take care of us and our children.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interstellar is Stellar!

Copyright Warner Bros. 2014
When deciding which movie to see in the theaters, we must consider several factors because of the high cost. Frankly, it's not worth seeing if you are not going to IMAX or 3D because Blu-ray is such beautiful quality and I pay for Netflix anyway. It's important for action films to be worth the money people pay for them because people pay a lot for the 3D and IMAX and want to be satisfied with their 2+ hour and $20 investment. I would say that Interstellar is one of those movies that is most definitely worth seeing in the theater despite the glaring errors.
As a theatrical experience, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is quite spectacular. This film has been compared by reviewers to Gravity. I would say that in some ways the experience is better and in others not as good. Gravity is such an amazing movie, that even falling short of it, Interstellar holds its own. Interstellar is about an astronaut named Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey whose given the responsibility to lead a crew of astronauts through a wormhole to search for a habitable planet for the whole of humanity to move to and survive as the planet earth's resources disappear. This adventure takes us on a visually and audibly awe-inspiring journey that only Christopher Nolan can take us on. Several shots reminisce of Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey including a shot of a silent explosion. The cinematography and visual effects wrap you up in a type of science fantasy that is indescribable.
As I mentioned in the intro, action films must be good because they require a small investment from the audience. The characters, story, and plot come together to make a screenplay that the audience is thoroughly invested in. I walked into the movie hungry. I walked out suddenly remembering how hungry I was because during the film I had completely forgotten! Almost every moment keeps you on the edge of the seat. Once again compared to Gravity, many aspects of story and character are weaker in Interstellar. No character is as compelling as Sandra Bullock's, but the story in Interstellar is much more complex with several storylines going on at once. The robot characters are even compelling and interesting to watch. Another nod to Kubrik's 2001 is the robots who assist the astronauts are mobile monoliths. The story is full of twists and turns that keeps you wondering what will happen next with several surprises, good and bad, along the way. Story wise, I would say Christopher Nolan's Inception is probably a better story, but Interstellar is on par with his quality of writing and directing. Not only do the visuals and audio keep you invested in the film, the screenplay keeps you emotionally and psychologically invested.
Some of the criticisms for the film is many of the weird science. Some of which most likely is impossible. I have to say, though, the characters are able to explain the science and it remains consistent. It is Science Fiction, so the science does not need to be realistic. The viewer does not need to understand specifics in order to follow the story because everything else is simple enough to follow.
Every good movie has a message that the director communicates to the audience. Interstellar is one of those thinking movies. I'm still trying to analyze it, but I will give you my best assessment. The movie portrays a very humanist-centered idea of humanity and our place in the universe. It is actually quite narcissistic. I will not delve too many details, but it presents the idea that humans are ultra-beings with superior intelligence. Almost God-like. Actually, it is the humanist philosophy that humans are gods. Despite this, the film actually has some good things to say about love. Nolan presents love as a powerful force in the universe beyond science and our actions should be out of love. Cooper's motivation for anything he does is love of his children. Some of the characters try to present that as a primal survival instinct and try to place survival of the species above survival of those we love. Nolan rightfully presents the question, why save the species if we cannot save those we love? Nolan places a high emphasis on family and human dignity with one major caveat. Some of the ideas he presents are uncomfortable and quite sickening. The professor who creates the mission and sends Cooper into space is named Professor Brand played by Michael Caine. He presents Cooper with two plans to save the species. Plan A involves shipping the entire human population to the planet that Cooper's team deems habitable. Plan B, however, is thousands of embryos. Using an incubator on this planet, in the event humans are unable to arrive at the planet somehow, Cooper and his team are to place these parent-less embryo's on the planet to keep the human species going. Cooper is naturally aversive of this idea but not for the right reasons. He is sickened by the idea of not being able to save his family and those on earth. What is actually sickening, is that the children are frozen in petri dishes and moved around like cargo rather than being treated with the dignity that humans deserve. Nolan's pro-family message is muddled by his treatment of these poor, innocent children. Another disturbing instance that is not so much sickening as uncomfortable is the lack of any mention of God. Ann Hathaway as Professor Brand's daughter has a big speech about the power of love, but nobody at any point of the movie mentions the source of love. One would think that when faced with the end of humanity, people would begin to question their relationship with God. Without God, Nolan's ideas about love and family all seem superficial and meaningless.
Interstellar is an amazing film on many levels. Even with the few disturbing aspects I mentioned, one is able to enjoy it as long as you buy into this fictitious world. When you're deciding to spend $17 a person on a movie this weekend, the three hour suspenseful and visual spectacle that is Interstellar is worth every penny and every minute. As imperfect as the message is, Interstellar is a secular man's one step towards holiness despite his two or more steps backward.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Commentary on Vegan News

I am not one to criticize other mothers because only a mother knows how to parent her child. A news story about a vegan mom has been making waves this week when she regained custody on Tuesday after losing her child back in June because she fed her baby soy formula. Her baby faced significant weight loss, so her doctor prescribed a non-vegan formula and requested she take her baby to the hospital. My husband asked me about it yesterday, so I thought I would blog about it today.
  1. How sad! I know I would have been devastated to find out my milk isn't enough. This is what we women were designed to do: nourish our newborns. Sarah Markham probably may have been afraid for her child's health as well. She most likely was in a vulnerable state, especially so soon after giving birth.
  2. Sarah could have asked her doctor to respect her wishes for a soy formula. If she did, and he refused, she should have found a better doctor. Yes, she has a right to raise her baby vegan, but her baby has the right to be healthy.
  3. What isn't mentioned in the news is if the doctor called social services because Sarah was feeding her baby soy formula or because she neglected to take her kid to the hospital. That much weight loss that early on is a serious and potentially dangerous health concern. Even if Sarah wanted to supplement with soy formula, a doctor at the hospital may have prescribed a soy formula for her baby. Should Sarah have taken her baby to the hospital? Maybe.
  4. Should the doctor have called social services at all? The doctor has a responsibility  to report suspected child abuse WHICH IS A VERY GOOD THING. I have, however, read countless cases of social services being involved in families where there was no case of abuse, someone just didn't like the way someone was parenting. This can cause more harm than good. Protective services is a necessary yet flawed system. In this case, a mother was separated from her child during the most critical time for bonding. I don't know the details, and I don't claim to have the answer for the perfect time for protective services to intervene, but this may have been one of the situations where it was not necessary.
  5. What kind of a world do we live in where the police are being called to report abuse when a mother feeds her child soy formula (which is supposedly "formulated' to meet all a newborn's nutritional needs) and we have six-year-olds being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes because of obesity. I don't know if either situation should be considered "abuse" but it says a lot about our culture. 
I don't have all the answers. I don't know the details of the situation, and I am unfamiliar with child abuse. I don't want to pass judgment on this mother or the doctor. They both were acting in the child's best interest from their perspective. You can find an article here about the situation and decide for yourself.
I do have something to say to all you vegan mothers or expectant mothers. Vegans boast that it is the most healthful diet. Well, it may not be. When you're feeding your kid vegan junk food, that is just as bad as or worse than a mother who feeds her kids non-vegan junk food. (I feed my kid junk food once in a while, so I'm on the same boat!) What's important is establishing healthy eating habits. Even if an adult is not careful, he or she may not receive all the calories or nutrients they may need which can be harmful. How much more so if young children do not receive all the nutrients they require? Even if a mother is breastfeeding, she especially needs to make sure she is getting enough vitamin B-12. Plenty of health food stores sell B-12 supplements, several foods are fortified with vitamin B-12, and nutritional yeast is pretty much pure B-12. It's not about if your kids eat vegan or meat or fish, it's about if your kids are eating well. This is important for vegans and non-vegans alike. Healthful eating habits of childhood do carry into adulthood, so it's important to make sure your kids eat right. A mostly vegan diet has actually been proven to be best. Eating meat a couple times a week rather than every day will save you money and improve your family's health. As far as kids adapting to health foods, my little guy is a fan of oatmeal for breakfast and tofu, beans, veggies, and fruit for lunch, dinner, and snacks. Don't underestimate how your child will respond to healthful food. Even if he doesn't like it, keep feeding it to him, and he'll eventually warm up to it. If you have any nutritional or health concerns, please consult your child's physician. I am not a licensed nutritionist or health professional, I am providing only suggestions based on personal research.

This is my little guy happily nursing away.

Copyright 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Small Success Thursday

As a stay-at-home mom of a toddler, it can often feel like I'm not accomplishing anything. All I do is chores, chase/play with my boy, and cook. I've decided, at least for this week, to participate in's Small Success Thursday with three of my week's successes. By doing this, hopefully I can take a step back and get a better look at my week.

1) Started this blog! The number one thing I'm proud of this week is starting this blog. I have missed writing and blogging so much. What a great way to wind down during nap time. I look forward to the many adventures ahead.

2) FINALLY I have a game plan to get my son on a regular sleep schedule. He has not been getting enough sleep which has made everybody around here cranky. After a disaster of a day yesterday, we started the day off right when he woke up at exactly the time his new schedule needs him to. He also went down for a nap at exactly the right time. Maybe tonight, then, he will go to bed when he needs to.

3) Yesterday, Nicky and I saw Jack and Sally at Disneyland! He liked Sally, but was a little nervous. He certainly was nervous around Jack. Of course, he's only comfortable around the Disney Princesses. We both had fun and got cute pictures. Check it out!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to Lunch in the Garden of Eden

Hello, and welcome to Lunch in the Garden of Eden. Allow me to introduce myself and my new blog. My name is Violet Olszyk. I am a Californian born and raised. I moved from NorCal to SoCal to pursue a career in film. (God had other plans.) I studied film at CSULB in film theory with an emphasis on Production Management. I spent more time writing papers than producing movies, however. During my time at CSULB, I grew in my faith thanks to the Catholic Newman Club. Through the Newman Club, I met my wonderful husband. Before I started my last semester at CSULB, I became pregnant with my darling boy. Now, nothing to do with CSULB. I have developed and interest in food, particularly the ethics of veganism and how to incorporate all that into faith. I will be exploring that topic in particular through the blog more so than I have up until this point. I mentioned that I am Catholic; I was raised roman Catholic but now practice the Byzantine Rite. I love the Byzantine Rite which I was introduced to through my husband who will be joining the Byzantine seminary next fall. Our journey with that will be featured on the blog as well. This blog is about a stay-at-home Byzantine Catholic Mom who likes movies and vegan food. With that, I will introduce you to my blog which will feature my four favorite "F's": faith, family, film, and food.
Faith is the absolute center of my life, so I can't keep it out of my blog. You may notice my faith appear in blog posts that have nothing to do with faith! I encourage those non-Catholics out there to keep an open mind. I do not boast of my faith in order to shame others, but in the hopes that you may appreciate the beauty of it that I see. Faith plays a central role in my daily decisions from how to put my son to sleep, what to eat, and what to watch. God has shown me that I cannot live without Him, which means I cannot write without Him. I hope rather than finding my faith hostile, you see it as beautiful. I welcome comments that would disagree as long as they are not mean-spirited, negative, or hostile. I especially will focus on Byzantine spirituality, but I still have a little Roman in me.
In service of the Lord, I serve my family. I have given up everything for them. When my husband becomes a priest, I will give everything else, including my family, to the church. I am not a perfect parent, and I know very little about parenting. Much like my journey with food, I will be using the blog to explore topics of parenting. I have a great post in mind involving cloth diapering! (That, I do know a lot about.) There are many topics that can be explored here from finances to church to daily life. The list is endless since family plays such an important role in our lives.
I have been watching movies since I was younger than my son is. My mom told me my favorite was Mary Poppins, and I would spend all day watching it. (My son's favorite is Frozen, by the way, and he cannot stand watching it for more than 40 minutes at a time.) I spent so much time watching Mary Poppins, I figured out how to rewind and play the video tape. Then a few months ago I realized, I had really good taste in movies when I was a 10-month-old. I have been making movies since my first documentary on Christmas Day 1998 when I received my first video camera and editing software. Most of my free time since then has been spent watching and making movies. Now, I write more about movies. I hope to delve into social and spiritual topics as well as write my own reviews once in a while about movies I see. The most recent film I have seen is Big Hero 6. This weekend, thanks to my mom, my husband and I will see Interstellar, so look out for a review of it next Wednesday.
Finally, I will mention food. Since I moved into an apartment in fall 2011, I have become very interested in food. Being vegan, I pretty much have to prepare everything from scratch. I even make my own "fake" meat because the store bought kind is expensive. Another reason is because a vegan diet is an entirely different approach to eating. Animal meat no longer plays a starring role and dairy and eggs are nowhere to be found, so these must be replaced by plant foods even in our favorite comfort food. My husband admitted to me that he has had to grow used to not having meat as the center of the meal. My journey in a vegan diet has allowed my appreciation for vegan food to grow, and I enjoy creating elaborate meals once a week for my family and easy meals the rest of the week. I will explore a variety of vegan food to encourage you to maybe try some even if you're not vegan. It could be a good route to go for Lent or St. Phillip's fast.
I know my blog will cover a large range of topics, but I have a large range of interests. I'm excited to start sharing this journey called life, and I hope you are too.
yes, this is my little family outside Haunted Mansion on a Monday night "just because."
You can find the original post on my visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe on my Violet in Mexico blog here.